Fat Tuesday, the Mardi Gras Musical | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Fat Tuesday, the Mardi Gras Musical

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Fat Tuesday, the Mardi Gras Musical, New Tuners Theatre. At its strongest, this premiere from New Tuners captures the ferocious freedom of a New Orleans carnival peaking into the final blowout. Best when it struts rather than sentimentalizes, Elizabeth Doyle's pop score ranges from the honky-tonk sparkle of "Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler" to funky blues, a winsome waltz, and the rousing cakewalk of the title number.

But at this stage Fat Tuesday offers slim pickings. The problem lies with Tim Pelton's underachieving, overplotted book: he's more intent on connecting the songs like dots than letting them grow out of any dramatic urgency. The contrived plot assembles a group of generic misfits brought individually to a French Quarter hotel by a party animal named Olizar. But alas, their mysterious benefactor turns out to be the Angel of Death; as soon as Mardi Gras ends, he plans to remove three of them forever. That, it seems, is taking Lent a bit too far.

A strange hybrid in which jubilation dissolves into an almost puritanical retribution, Fat Tuesday is The Masque of the Red Death played as Dixieland. Too many sudden crises and too little resolution make the Mardi Gras backdrop seem increasingly arbitrary. But Warner Crocker stages this downer gala with abundant exuberance, and Judy Myers's musical direction gives every song a fighting chance. As Olizar, Allan Chambers makes up in hearty bonhomie what he loses on the high notes. And as the Blanche Dubois-like proprietress, Jennifer Chada brings a jaded hedonism to her infectious anthem "The Greatest Mardi Gras." But this fete is no such thing.

--Lawrence Bommer

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